By Shauna Niequist
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. —Genesis 2:24
People refer to your wedding day as the best day of your life. I understand why entirely. I remember my wedding day so absolutely clearly. I remember putting on the veil, seeing Aaron’s face for the first time, the heaviness of my dress as I walked down the aisle with my dad. I remember the taste of the champagne and the sound of the band. I remember dancing with Aaron as though it was last night.
This is the thing, though: When people tell you that your wedding day is the best day of your life, what it sort of sounds like they’re saying is that it’s all downhill after the wedding is over. So many pastors make it a point to tell you, right during the ceremony, that it’s all fun and games while you’re wearing the dress and holding the flowers, but that serious business starts when the dancing stops. That’s true, in some ways. Marriage is a serious business, and there’s a lot to marriage that you can’t see from where you’re standing in the front of a church, bridesmaids surrounding you.
Your wedding day will, of course, be an extraordinary day. But on that day, you cannot imagine the beautiful, life-altering, soul-shaping things ahead of you. This is just the beginning. I know you believe that you could not possibly love him more than you do right now. I understand that. I felt that. I was wrong. I’m not an expert on anything, and certainly not on marriage, but I’m here to tell you that what you feel on your wedding day is like dipping your toe in an ocean, and with every passing year, you swim farther and farther from the shore, unable, at a certain point, to see anything but water. This is just the beginning, and you can’t imagine the love that will bloom between you over time.
You will cry together, laugh together, pray and dance and move furniture together. You will learn and unlearn things, make a home together, hurt each other’s feelings without meaning to, and sometimes very much on purpose. You will learn over time that the heart of marriage is forgiveness. You will learn in the first six months how much forgiveness he requires, and then you will realize, in the six months after that, just how much forgiveness you yourself need.
A piece of practical advice: you will not sleep well the night before your wedding. It’s pretty much a fact. Your mind will rattle and shake, full of bizarre fears. You fear that your dress will fall off. It will not. You fear that you did not, in fact, secure a caterer. You did. You will fear, with each passing hour of the night, that your face is puffing up like a sausage and the area under your eyes is becoming blacker than an eight ball. This is not true. You are young, and a good makeup artist can cover a multitude of sins. You can try a sleeping pill, but you may find that it is no match for the running of your mind. Wake up a bridesmaid or your mother, make some tea, and let them remind you about the important things: the florist will indeed show up, your crazy uncle probably will hit on your bridesmaids, but they’ll play it off graciously, and most important, you are indeed ready to be a wife.
Don’t worry too much about all the advice that other people are giving you; mine, of course, included. I remember getting my nails done the day before my wedding. All the ladies at the salon were wishing me luck and wanted to see my ring, and giving bits of sweet, innocuous, helpful advice like, “Make sure you eat a sandwich so you don’t pass out during the ceremony,” and, “Bring a piece of chalk to cover any marks you get on your dress before pictures.” Thanks, ladies.
And then one woman says, “Whatever you do, don’t have one of those weddings where they don’t even give you any dinner. They call it heavy hors d’oeuvres, but my husband and I just starved!” Oh, heavens. That’s exactly what we were having, heavy hors d’oeuvres. Ma’am, it’s the day before my wedding. Do you think I’m just now considering catering options? Quick, let me call the caterer right now and change everything because one lady at the salon was hungry one time after a wedding.
Keep in mind that there are a million ways to do a wedding, and that for whatever reason, people feel extraordinarily free to comment on anything they feel is out of the ordinary. Consider this great training if you should one day decide to have children. Advice on cakes and seeing each other before the ceremony is a great warm-up for unsolicited lectures on the ills of epidurals, the importance of delayed vaccinations, and many varied ways you will probably damage and scar your precious new life.
Part of being a married couple means that you create a new identity together, woven from your experiences and histories and lives, and while the whole world is replete with opinions and recommendations, work hard to become your own family, with your own values and traditions, things you always do, things you never do, things that bring you back to why you fell in love in the first place. Dance to your song in the backyard, wear your wedding shoes every anniversary. Carve out your own history together, little by little, month by month, year by year. Because there will be seasons that are as dry as deserts, and the history of your love for one another will be the water you need to bring new life and growth, turning that season from dust to garden once again.
Today is about the promise of the future and all the great moments of the past and, indeed, this beautiful present where you stand together, surrounded by people who love you and who are praying that your marriage is one of the great ones. It could be, you know, if you work hard and forgive often, and get over yourself and your selfishness over and over again. It could be one of the stories people tell, when they want to believe in love’s power and life’s richness. It could be one that your children and grandchildren tell each other, praying that someday they’ll have a love like yours.
My grandparents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this year. They are one of those couples that are living a love story every day, even after 60 years. They went to third grade together, and then Grandma’s family moved away. And when they met again at 17, Grandpa swears he remembered that beautiful face from the third grade. They were married at the Justice of the Peace, just before Grandpa left for the Navy. They moved to Hawaii a few years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Grandpa and his friends spent their days surfing on longboards while Grandma and the other women laid on the beach in Hawaiian-print bikinis.
Life took them to California for a few years, and then back home to Michigan. They sailed in the Caribbean and kept a sailboat in South Haven. At their house in Kalamazoo, Grandpa worked in his shop while Grandma tended her roses, all along the white fence. We watched them slow dance in the kitchen and loved to look through their pictures from Hawaii and their sailing trips. They love to ride bikes together, and for their 75th birthdays, they took their tandem recumbent bike to Washington, DC, to ride along the Potomac.
They’re fairly certain that the movie The Notebook is a story about them, and I can see why. They have that thing, that romantic, connected thing that we all want, the reason we stand in front of churches and make vows before God and witnesses.
On the night of their anniversary party, we had dinner and cake and when we toasted them, essentially, we all said the same thing. We each said our own versions of thank you for having a marriage that gives us something extraordinary to aspire to. Thank you for all the times we caught you kissing in the kitchen and all the times you showed us pictures of your wedding and your years in Hawaii and your sailing trips and bike rides. Thank you for giving us a picture of how we could be, if we work really hard and are very good to one another. Thank you for living with so much love and tenderness and laughter that we have in you a real life picture of how good it can be.
You, my dear friend, will be a bride for one day, but you will, with God’s grace and your own very hard work, be a wife to this man every day for the rest of your life. Being a bride is super-fun, but it pales in comparison to the thrill and beauty of being a part of one of the truly great partnerships, like my grandparents. Make your love story one worth telling. Make it one worth living, every day, as long as you both shall live.
Taken from Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist. Click here to learn more about this book.
Discover how the waves of trials can carry you into a deeper awareness of the presence of God, even in the midst of turmoil, and experience the precious gifts and wisdom that only come the hard way—through change, loss, and transition.
It’s said that the only thing in life that doesn’t change is change itself. In this collection of poignant essays, New York Times bestselling author Shauna Niequist reflects on her own journey of making peace with change, the nuanced mix of excitement and heartbreak that comes with it, and the practices that offer us strength and hope along the way.
When life comes at us in waves, our first instinct is to dig in our heels and control what we can. A keen observer of life with a lyrical voice, Shauna offers another way—the way of letting the waves carry us into a deeper awareness of the presence of God in our lives, even in the midst of turmoil. Drawing from her own experiences in a season of pain and chaos—difficult moves, job changes, marital stress, financial worries, and miscarriage—Shauna explores the gifts and wisdom that only come to us the hard way, through change, loss, and transition.
With honesty and hope, Shauna beautifully unwraps the complicated truth that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, a moment of lightness even on the darkest of nights, and that rejoicing is no less meaningful when it contains a splinter of sadness. A tribute to life at the edges, this selection of essays is a love letter to the bittersweet and sacred work change does in us all.
Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines, Bittersweet, Bread & Wine, Savor, and Present Over Perfect. She is married to Aaron, and they have two wild and silly and darling boys, Henry and Mac. They live in New York City. Shauna’s three great loves are her family, dinner parties, and books, and she believes that vulnerable storytelling, hard laughter, and cold pizza for breakfast can cure almost anything.